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Madras HC Judge’s Decision To ‘Learn’ To Be Inclusive Of LGBT+ Communities Gives Hope

Posted: April 30, 2021

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The Madras High Court Judge admitting that he does not understand same-sex relationships, but agreed to undergo an educational session to understand it better, gives us the much-needed ray of hope.

A judge of the Madras High Court Justice N. Anand Venkatesh was hearing a case filed by a couple in a same-sex relationship, seeking protection from the Court. The Lawyers of the couple made a request made urging the Court to issue certain guidelines to deal with cases of similar nature to ensure that persons in same-sex relationships are treated with dignity. In response to this request, the honorable judge stated that he is “not fully woke on this aspect”. He has fixed an appointment with a psychologist to undergo an educational session to understand same-sex relationships better as reported here.

This move by a judge is indeed laudable. The same judge on 29th March 2021 had instructed the parents of the couple in the present case to undergo counseling with a psychiatrist to understand their children’s relationship and handle it better as also reported here. The willingness to make an informed decision and the empathy shown by the judge in the present case comes as a ray of hope in a nation where large sections of the population have been holding on rigidly to their homophobic mindset.

The ground reality in India concerning the LGBTQ Community

On September 6th, 2018, a historical judgement was made as the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality and abolished Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. void to the effect that  Consensual same-sex relationships would not be punishable under this section any longer. However nearly 2 and a half years after this historic verdict a lot remains to be done to make society at large more inclusive for the LGBTQ community. The members of the community now seek to have the same civil rights extended to them that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy..

Despite these rulings, the lack of societal acceptance and understanding has forced many of them to continue leading dual lives. They fear persecution by their parents and law enforcement agencies as it happened in the case being dealt with by the Madras High Court.

However, very recently, the Counsel for the Central Government told the Delhi High Court on February 25th, 2021 that the decriminalization of Section 377 of IPC does not automatically translate into a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. The Counsel went on to say “There is no acceptance of the institution of marriage between two individuals of the same gender either in personal laws or codified statutory laws.”

The Central Government further stated that any changes in the personal laws would create “complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws”. A stance that strongly reeks of homophobia. Would this not be strengthening the hostile mindset and treatment meted out by society towards individuals from the LGBTQ community? Depriving a section of citizens of their basic rights which the heterosexual citizens of the country can freely exercise not amount to discriminatory treatment?

Lack of awareness not the issue; not making the effort to become aware is

On this background, the decision taken by Justice N. Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court to understand same-sex relationships from a professional psychologist with an intent to evolve his thought process and help him in writing an honest order in the case is laudable and inspiring for several reasons.

Firstly, a person holding a position of respect in the Judiciary admitting his lack of knowledge about a subject serves as a lesson that admitting our shortcomings is a natural and healthy process. Had he chosen not to admit the lack of his understanding of same-sex relationships, the verdict could have been shrouded in homophobia proving extremely detrimental for the couple who have filed the case.

Many verdicts delivered in courts over the decades could have reformed our existing criminal justice system or brought a change in our legislation, but only if there had been an attempt to understand the scenario or an attempt to look at the issue in an empathetic manner rather than look at it from a lens of rigid pre-conceived social understanding. A primary example is the refusal to criminalize marital rape.

The emphatic and humane move made by the judge of the Madras High Court shines as a glimmer of hope. It gives the hope that this would inspire more people in higher echelons of power who have the means to bring change to effectively break the shackles of social conditioning to allow themselves and society to evolve.

Image source: YouTube and Marta Branco on pexels

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